Pot limit hold’em is one of the most difficult forms of poker, simply because it is “big-bet” poker, but the bets on the earlier streets are small in comparison to the size of the bet that one can make on the river. A common example is where you have A-K the flop is Ah-10c-9s, you bet the pot and someone calls, the turn is a 4s, you bet and he calls and the river is a Qs, you check and he fires in a large pot limit bet. In limit poker, this would be a fairly straight forward call as there is every possibility that he doesn’t have you beat. But in pot limit, you simply don’t have the ability to “call out of curiosity” and there is every chance that you will be moved off the best hand on occasion. The following are some guidelines to help you through the minefield that is pot limit hold’em.
TAKE CONTROL OF THE POT WHEREVER YOU CAN
It is much easier to work out where you stand when you are in control of the pot. For example, let’s say you’re in a middle-late position with Ah-10h and there are two late position players behind you. The flop is Ad-9h-6c and the early position players check to you. Now rather than checking and seeing what your opponents behind you do, it’s much better to bet out right here and now. If your opponents are strong, they will probably raise you. But if they don’t have a hand and you’ve checked to them, they can present three problems to you:
1) They may start betting, simply because they have position. Worse still, they may continue to bet the whole way irrespective of the fact that you are sitting there calling and on the river, they might be able to put in a bet that’s simply too large to call with anything less than A-K. As a result, you may be moved off your hand. Conversely, if you bet into them and they raise, they may have you beat. But if they simply call the flop, you should probably go ahead and bet again on the turn (even if it isn’t a full pot-limit bet). This will keep them on the back foot which may result in them folding the stronger hand (eg… A-J) or, at the very least, they would be extremely reluctant to attempt a bluff because they know that, if you bet into them from an early position, your hand would probably be strong enough to call a raise on the turn and a bet on the river. This goes to show you how you will always get more information about your opponent’s hand by betting and the more information you have, the more accurate your decisions will be.
2) The other problem is that they may check behind you and you will inadvertently give a free card to a player that would have folded if you bet the pot on the flop. For example, it is very difficult for 6-7 suited to call a pot limit bet on a flop of A-9-6, but if you check, accidentally given them a free card and they catch a another 6, you clearly won’t lose them.
3) If you check the flop, everyone else checks behind you and the river is innocuous (for example, a 2s), a bet on the turn may look suspicious and as a result, an opponent may make a play at you. For example, if they have 10-9 suited on a flop of A-9-6 and everyone checked, they may suspect that they have the best hand. If you come out betting on the turn, they may put you on a steal and raise you the full pot limit. As a result, you may be forced to give up an opportunity to make money when your opponent only has two outs against your hand.
Accordingly, you should see the importance of taking control of the hand wherever possible, even if you risk everyone folding and collecting only the preflop bets. Winning a small pot is better than losing a large one.
TABLE SELECTION AND GENERAL TABLE ANALYSIS IS CRITICAL
The most commonly overlooked aspect of pot limit hold’em is general analysis of the game itself. So whenever you are considering a pot limit game, ask yourself whether the players at the table are tough or weak. Will there be a lot of “moves” like check-raise bluffs? Or will this be a soft game, where players will generally bet their good hands and fold everything else? Most importantly, are you able to beat some of the players at the table or are you looking at a fairly tough field?
Furthermore, you should always reconsider whether the game is worth staying in when a few new players take the place of those that went home. This is most important when you are winning. For example, if you have won $500 in three hours at the table and a players sits down who plays every hand, bets all the way if everyone checks and raises and reraises if anyone bets into him (ie… plays hyper aggressive and doesn’t care how much he loses), then is it may be a good time to pack up and go. You’ve made a good earn for one session and this player may send you home broke in one hand– usually because you’ll eventually get stuck in a raising war between him and another opponent.
Similarly, if tough players move in on the game, it may also be a good time to leave. But if the game goes from good to better, don’t go anywhere. It is better to go broke in a game where you are an overall favourite and going broke against tough and loose/aggressive opposition.
Now many may argue that this sort of analysis should occur with any poker game you play. Well this is true to some degree, but in pot-limit and no-limit, it is absolutely critical because you may have your stack on the line in the next hand. In limit, however, you can stay in the game if you are running well, even if the game is somewhat tough.
PLAYING SHORT STACKED vs RELOADING A SHORT STACK
A common debate amongst players is what to do with when you have a short-stack: should you re-buy and bring your stack back up to a competitive size or should you sit tight and see if you can find a hand to double up with?
Well the answer is…. “it depends” ! But here are some good guiding factors:
1) Patience: If you have a short stack, are you the sort of player that will stick it in at the next best opportunity, or are you the type of player to lose a round or two of blinds until you get a hand like KK? If you are the former, you may as well rebuy before going all in and continue to play properly. If you are the latter, try your luck waiting for a hand. Note that we do not criticize either approach – we simply recommend based on the approach you use in this situation.
2) Size of your small stack: If you bought in for $500 and you have $130 left, it may be worth waiting for a good opportunity before moving all in. If you can double or triple back up, you’re virtually back in the race. On the other hand, if you had $60 left, it might be worth rebuying. It’s difficult if the next four hands you play all have to be winners.
3) The nature of the table: If the players at the table are rather loose, it might be better to reload your short stack. That way, you’ll have a good chance of winning a big pot with your next winning hand. But if the players are tight, a short stack isn’t so bad because you’ll find that, even with a short stack, you may be able to steal one or two pots on the flop and rebuild bit by bit until a good double up opportunity arises.
4) Your emotional state: If you just a pot because of bad river card and you’re short stacked, it might be better to simply play tight and wait for aces or kings or another quality starting hand. This will give you a little bit of time to “cool off” and get yourself together. Reloading straight after a bad beat can sometimes can end up costing you a lot of money in a short space of time.